The San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority held its board of directors meeting on Thursday, December 8, 2022 at its Los Banos headquarters and on Zoom. I was out of town at the Almond Conference and haven’t heard the latest on the official tallies from the recent storms. Usually, Tom Boardman gives a report at this meeting. Boardman used to work for San Luis Delta Mendota but now Westlands Water District sends him a love letter every week or two or once a month, I’m not privy to his payroll arrangements. So, if you miss his report here you get a chance to hear it at Westlands. Every time I hear one of his reports I threaten him with a phone call and a chance to explain to me how he can read so many tea leaves, feel his bunion, inspect the hog spleen, consult the Farmer’s Almanac and the Old Farmer’s Alamac and study what looks like to me some complicated charts and graphs to inform his report.
At 9:00am Chairman Cannon Michael welcomed everyone and said there is an opportunity for the public to comment. We then all joined in on a salute to the flag of the finest nation to ever exist on God’s earth. Everyone introduced themselves and that fulfilled roll call and established a quorum. The consent calendar was passed without any being pulled for further comment or discussion.
Next Executive Director Federico Barajas presented the board with a list of dates for meetings in 2023. It’s never easy to herd cats or farmers into the same room at the same time so this is an important step. The board approved.
Barajas next recognized Westlands Water District’s General Manager Tom Birmingham who is retiring at the end of the month after 22-years. Barajas read off a long list of accomplishments and ended with a personal thank from him to Birmingham for all the help and fellowship over the years. Before he started with San Luis Barajas was with the US Bureau of Reclamation so they had a lot of interaction.
Birmingham thanked Barajas and SLDMWA for the opportunity to work with the organization and individuals. He said much has been written about his departure and much of it has been thoughtful and accurate but . . . There was a rather splashy story about his retirement in the Sacramento Bee that included a statement that Birmingham had no patience with others’ opinions that differ from his. He said there could be nothing further from the truth. He said differing opinions lead to better dialog and decision making. What he doesn’t have patience for is opinions not based on fact. He said he recently read a statement from someone who claimed it is a fact Westlands doesn’t receive water from Shasta. He said that type of willful ignorance is frustrating. Amen brother.
Birmingham thanked a long list of people he’s worked with both currently and some who have passed on. The board unanimously voted to honor Birmingham with a resolution and there were some gifts and photo ops and such.
J. Scott Petersen said the water resources objectives of 2023 are fundamentally the same as the current 2022 objectives. He said there is a new group of legislators who need some extra attention. They need an education on SLDMWA’s piece of the puzzle.
Pablo Arroyave presented the board with the opportunity to spend $2.7 million on the Delta Mendota Canal for an agreement on Subsidence Mitigation Geotechnical Exploration Work, Issuance of Notice to Proceed for Phases 2 and 3, and Expenditures. Arroyave also asked the board to Consider Authorizing Los Vaqueros Reservoir Expansion Project Activity Agreement Expenditure of up to $1,094,000 in FY23 to Fund Amendment No. 4 to the Cost Share Agreement for Los Vaqueros Reservoir Expansion Project Planning. He did a good job because the board went for it both times.
Petersen gave the federal legislation update saying the number of communities available to dip into the disadvantaged pool has increased nationally by 4,000 and that includes some locations in SLDM. Officially the US Senate is 49 Republican and 51 Democrat. This means the committees will now have Dem majorities. Modesto farmer John Duarte has prevailed in a very close race for a House seat and that body now has a Republican majority. That should help keep some of the “woke” crazy at bay. January 7th will kick-off the first Farm Bill hearing. That $26 billion proposal is something to keep an eye on.
Consultant Dennis Cardoza reported from his car and he apologized as he was traveling. He also had a bicycle accident that resulted in blood clot so he can’t fly until next month. Prayers. Cardoza reported at the moment the moderates of both parties are having a difficult time in this lame duck session.
On the state side Petersen reported the Delta Conveyance EIR comment period deadline is next Friday so weigh in now or hold your peace or is it piece? There is now grant funding available to reduce climate change being offered by the state. Sign me up. There is also Land Repurposing program funding out there to help us fallow. The new leader of the Assembly Robert Rivas has some knowledge of agriculture and that’s nice.
Kristin Olsen said Monday was the day of swearing in of the state elected officials. She said there is still one race out there – State Senator Melissa Hurtado looks like she’s pulling ahead. Unbelievably votes for this race have yet to be officially tabulated a month after election day. A Modesto Assemblyman has introduced a bill to set aside a portion of the state’s revenue for water programs. That faces a tough battle.
Director Bill Diedrich said all of this talk about farming for future climate change is just a way to drive farmers out of business. He said fuel costs are making the economic turndown deadly for farm production. He said regenerative farming is a buzz word, climate friendly ag just means lower production. The Farm Bill crafters need to be extremely aware of this. He urges staff and consultants to get elected officials to tour farms. Michael added there are those who want all agriculture in California to be organic.
Twenty years or more ago I spoke with a professor from Auburn about organic farming and genetically modified organisms. This man whose name escapes me, came from the third world and was very passionate about the subject. He said there are strains of rice than produce vitamin A but are banned by the European Union as GMOs. The professor told me more than a million children in impoverished nations go blind from a lack of vitamin A annually. He also said, and this was more than 20-years ago, in order to organically grow as much food as was then being produced by conventional, modern agriculture – every square inch that could support cattle would have to be put to work to produced enough organic fertilizer. Now, that’s a lot of cow farts. So the magic thinkers who want all organic need to grow it themselves or not worry about climate change due to bovine flatulence or be willing to trade one for another. Or, and this is a big one, some of the extremes need to do like Birmingham suggested and make it a practice to base policy on facts and be aware of the concept of unintended consequences.
Barajas reminded everyone the budget schedule meeting will be next week and in-person only. Arroyave said two applications for infrastructure, the DMC subsidence correction and one of the pumping plants on the system needing repairs which went from $8 million to $11 million are submitted. On the other side of the spectrum some welcome information, the Yuba Water transfer amounts have increased, so good news.
Arroyave requested a letter to SLDM members stating water orders based on three allocation scenarios: dry, normal and wet, I believe. This will allow staff to develop estimates for O&M costs and other accounting needs. He asked for a quick turnaround on responses.
Boardman said even though Shasta storage is higher than at this time last year, the runoff to the reservoir isn’t ticking up. One reason is the soil is pretty dry. However, the temperatures have been low and the higher elevation snowpacks are developing nicely. More rain and storms are expected soon. The snowpack above Folsom is more than 160 percent of normal. Federal pumping is limited to one unit at the Banks plant and salinity is a problem. There are conditions from channel barriers are causing saltier water to slosh around the central and southern Delta interiors, if I understood. The next series of storms should provide some pulse that will create a stronger force to freshen the water and allow more pumping. However, there is a provision known as the First Flush Action designed to protect smelt. If increased Sacramento River inflows create increased turbidity, it can cause pumping restrictions. Although more water is entering the Delta less can be exported. Does there need to be any other example of why the current antiquated fish screens need to be updated with an environmentally friendly design? That is the fundamental reason for the Water Blueprint in my opinion.
Boardman said the Cooperative Operations Agreement figures need to be adjusted in response to further USBR numbers. The state owes the feds 59,000 a/f at San Luis Reservoir. Speaking of SLR things are running about 30,000 a/f below what was being expected in earlier estimates. To get above a 700,000 a/f federal share at SLR it needs to rain. Del Puerto GM Anthea Hansen asked if the pumping amounts do go up will the DMC dewatering stop. Arroyave said yes of course.
Committee & Other Reports
Michael said Birmingham approached him before today’s meeting and told him he’d understand if he wanted someone else to give the Water Resources Committee report. Michael said no, he doesn’t want Birmingham to have to ever stop giving that report.
Mike Wade reported the California Farm Water Coalition has been active for 30-years carrying its educational message to the non-farm population. He said CFWC has always tried to be as efficient as possible. He said things have changed and they have to purchase more social media exposure. They used to buy a lot of radio. He said Linda Resnick heard a radio advertisement while driving around Southern California and she directed Wonderful’s staff to reach out to CFWC.
Wade said they’ve spent more than $100,000 to bring more than 200,000 visits to its website. There’s a museum in Sacramento CFWC has contributed to helping educate children about water in the state. He said Stanford University has released a report that dams can help feed people by providing irrigation. He said he likes to think some of CFWC and the Family Farm Alliance has helped inform this report.
Diedrich said as chair of the CFWC he is tasked with helping to get the resources needed to continue the work. He urged any manager who felt his or her board needed a goose to donate to CFWC to let him know and he and Wade would happily attend their meeting with a well-timed power point.
Director John Varela gave the ACWA conference update and said he’d like to get a copy of the Stanford report. He said he meets with the President of Stanford regularly and wants to question him about it. He said the recent ACWA gathering at Indian Wells was very successful. He said traveling there showed how much fallowed land there is in California and it is a scary amount. Talk about a food desert.
Petersen reported the Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley has cancelled its December meeting and won’t gather again until January. The Cooperative Action Plan is however, continuing to meet and some positive news – the Packard Foundation has donated $700,000 to the CAP. There is also some money in the proposed federal legislation to help CAP with meeting its budget.
The meeting went into closed session at 10:55am with some items about personnel evaluations and a trash can full of litigation matters. Well, I could be wrong and I often are, but I have a pretty good reason to have hope. God knows all about farming and feeding people and turbidity or even climate change doesn’t scare Him. Go be good to each other.
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SAN LUIS & DELTA-MENDOTA WATER AUTHORITY was established in January of 1992 and consists of approximately 2,100,000 acres of 29 federal and exchange water service contractors within the western San Joaquin Valley, San Benito and Santa Clara counties. The governing body of the Authority consists of a 19-member Board of Directors classified into five divisions with directors selected from within each division. The main conveyance is the Delta-Mendota Canal that delivers approximately 3,000,000-acre feet of water within the Authority service area. Of this amount, 2,500,000-acre feet are delivered to highly productive agricultural lands, 150,000 to 200,000-acre feet for municipal and industrial uses, and between 250,000 to 300,000 acre-feet are delivered to wildlife refuges for habitat enhancement and restoration.
Board – Chairman: Cannon Michael,
Staff – Executive Director: Federico Barajas, COO: Pablo Arroyave, Attorney: Becca Ackroyd, J. Scott Pedersen: Director of Water Policy